Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Greed or Stupidity?

Tonight's meeting of Stockton Council produced some of the least credible arguments ever heard in that council chamber.  One of the agenda items was on the subject of members' allowances.  Over recent years the council has had to reduce its expenditure significantly and that has led to redundancies and cuts in services.  In 2011 the Liberal Democrat group suggested that the special responsibility allowances paid to vice-chairs of committees should be reviewed as part of an effort to reduce the overall amount spent on Councillor allowances.  In 2012 we tried to amend the budget in order to save money on all the SRAs.  Our move was not supported by the Labour group and we were told it wasn't a budget decision.
Councillors' allowances are recommended by an independent panel but then the council decides which of their recommendations to accept.  Last year the panel met and amongst other recommendations proposed abolition of the allowance for vice-chairs except in the rare circumstance where a chair is unable to attend for a prolonged period and the vc has to take over their role.  The panel made this recommendation because most of the councillors they had spoken to said it was a good idea.  Cabinet met in March and considered the report, recommending to council that the report be noted and that the proposals be considered.  That recommendation was part of the agenda papers for tonight.
Ten minutes or more into the meeting, a paper was brought into the chamber and distributed which claimed to be the cabinet recommendation to council.  When pressed as to which meeting of cabinet this recommendation had been made at, the head of law and democracy said it was a motion.  When pressed about which cabinet meeting had decided to put the motion the leader of the council said it was from him and the labour group.  Chaos is too polite a word.
The major change to the panel's recommendations was to keep the SRA for vice-chairs, thus removing at a stroke over £26k of savings, and announcing that the cabinet could probably be reduced by 2 members with a consequent reduction in select committees.  All this would only be implemented after the election next year.
A conservative move to defer a decision in order to give time for councillors to discuss it properly and understand exactly what was being proposed was defeated by a combined vote of Labour and Ingleby Barwick Independents.
The one UKIP councillor managed to get onto his feet before me or the BIA councillor present, all of us wanting to propose that the SRA for vice-chairs be removed.  That proposal too was defeated.  The excuse given by one Labour speaker after another was that we needed to get on with the job of saving money.  Not one of them could explain how paying a group of people over £26k per year saved money.
So I ask myself - are Labour and IBIS councillors too stupid to realise that paying out money is not saving money?  Or are they so greedy that they can't bear the thought that half a dozen of them might not get a few thousand pounds a year extra next year?  or is there a third explanation for their behaviour that escaped the rest of us tonight?

No comments: